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(Photo credit: Paola Romi)
It’s a fitting testament to my current life as an archaeologist and PhD student that I’m writing this post three days late, relying on free wifi from the lounge of a hotel and looking out over the skyline of Istanbul. This is probably the busiest summer of travel of my life. Since mid-May, I’ve done a circuit from Providence-Canada-Providence-London-Yorkshire-Rome-London-Petra-Rome-Istanbul. I’ve been involved with survey, with publication, with documentary film-making, and with data-crunching. On Wednesday I’ll head down to a site called Labraunda for 4 weeks, before finishing my summer with two weeks at Utica, Tunisia and finally flying back to the US. By the numbers, that’s 3.5 months, 7 countries, 3 entrance visas, 11 flights, and I couldn’t even guess how many hours spent travelling. My passport is full-up, and by the first week of September I’ll be more-than-ready to be home.
When non-archaeologists get excited about our discipline, often the ability to travel to these amazing places is front and centre in the list of ‘I’m so jealous…’ comments. Rather than talk of the sites themselves – which are incredible – or the experience of these different countries and cultures – which is amazing – I thought I’d use this post to explain why I haven’t posted earlier, and to talk a bit about the actual travel itself.
— J. Andrew Dufton (@jadufton) July 27, 2013
I think for the most part archaeologists make pretty laissez-faire travellers. Or maybe just I am a laissez-faire traveller. I plan things later than most, including the night before. I probably have more experience dealing with visas, customs and immigration, or travelling with odd materials or equipment. I’m happy to walk around a city with no idea where I’m going, sometimes when I can’t speak the local language. I get lost – a lot – and I find my way back again.
This is part of fieldwork for many archaeologists as we criss-cross the globe or our local county looking for the latest dirt on our own research interests. This travel is exhilarating, and exactly the reason I first got excited about a career as an archaeologist. Yet it is also exhausting. It’s discomforting, and it’s disorienting. It’s lonely, and it’s isolating. Living out of a duffel bag for almost four months is hard on my body, it’s hard on my bank account, and it’s hard on my personal relationships.
This is not a ‘woe is me’ post, and I don’t want to suggest in any way that I’m not always aware of how fortunate I am to have these experiences. Despite all these hardships I love the chance to travel, alone and with my peers, to new places. I love being on site, and I love finding a room in Istanbul with 12hrs notice. However this life isn’t suited to everyone. Just because I wouldn’t change this for the world, it’s worth noting on a Day of Archaeology that the costs of a life of research travel and fieldwork isn’t the same as a four month vacation, and I know many friends and family who shudder to think of living with this much uncertainty. I see this as all the more reason to celebrate the diversity of archaeology as a profession, and of archaeologists as people, as demonstrated by the over 300 wonderful posts we’ve been treated to this year. I’ll be thinking of this diversity as I eat dinner on some random terrace in Istanbul, and hope others take the chance to think of this diversity wherever they may be reading this post.
Much of archaeology, especially in academia, comes down to how you spend your summer vacation. After finishing up the first year of a PhD at the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World at Brown University, this summer I’ve been making the project circuit in Italy and Jordan, the latter as part of the Brown University Petra Archaeological Project.
Today was the day off for the team, and met with a slow start after a late night of football and dancing under the stars on the roof of the dig house (aka Club Sayhoun). Day off or no day off, five of us were up early and ready for a six hour hike to Jebel Harun, the grave of Aaron (Arabic: Harun), brother of Moses. And what a hike it was- you can all check out Allison’s post detailing just why visiting the tomb has been a pilgrimage for almost two thousand years. To add to her sparkling narrative would hardly do it justice, so instead I’m going to focus on the archaeologists with whom I spent the day hiking to the top of the known Petra world.
Crafty just finished up the fourth year of her PhD at the Joukowsky Institute. She researches pilgrimage sites in central Turkey, so was mixing business and ‘pleasure’ in hiking up what seemed like 10000m in 30+ degree desert sun. She’s also been a great friend in my first year at Brown in showing me both the school and the city, and will be sorely missed this coming year as she lives in Istanbul with a fellowship at the Koç University Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations.
I just met Andrew this year at Petra, where he’s working for the first time after finishing his MA at the University of Colorado Boulder. In the last week I’ve already discovered he has a wicked sense of humour and, after today, I also know the man is a beast when it comes to an intense hike. I’m sure there must be some goat blood in his family tree somewhere.
Linda is another Brown student, so I’ve had the chance to get to know her pretty well in the last year. Aside from a shared love of dance (NB- she can actually dance, and I cannot), and a mutual hope for a Spain win against Italy on Sunday, we’ve also spent the last year in classes and brushing up on Latin to varying degrees of success. If I wanted to embarrass us both, I’d post the video of us re-enacting the opening scenes of the Lion King on the mountain today. I think this time discretion is the better part of valor.
Allison is another person I’ve had the good fortune to meet this season at Petra, and has just finished up her first year of a PhD at Stanford. We’ve already had some great chats about communicating archaeology to the public. I don’t know how she made it up the mountain after a serious bout of sickness yesterday, but after some strategic shady stops, a lot of water, and even more stairs we emerged victorious to greet the others and have some lunch.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, a lot of the discussion of archaeology focusses on the archaeology itself- on the site, the materials, the landscape, the archive, the publication. But at least to me, the personal interactions on days like today leave a more lasting impression. Meeting and developing friendships with these people- the archaeologists, my peers- is the thing that is ultimately the most rewarding aspect of a career in archaeology. I’m looking forward to similar days of archaeological pilgrimage, both in the rest of my season with BUPAP and in the future.
Where were you on the Day of Archaeology, 2011? I’ve spent my day (so far) moderating posts for the Day of Archaeology and spreading word about the event on social media. I suspect the other members of the organising committee for #dayofarch are stuck with the same predicament. We’ve been amazed by the response to the day; it’s great fun to be involved in something with such a wide breadth of contributions and such international interest.
As much as I like the metablogging aspect of dedicating a post to a day of reading other posts, spending a day overindulging in coffee and chatting online I’m left thinking “So what is there to discuss?” And yet things like today are not that different than how I’ve spent some of my time in my last 3 years as the head of digital at L – P : Archaeology. The task of collecting and organising data from archaeological projects, excavations or otherwise, and getting that data into a format which is useful to archaeologists and the public is an overwhelming one. I’ve worked with commercial excavations in London (Prescot Street); with research projects abroad (Villa Magna); with community-driven archaeological projects (Thames Discovery Programme); with international collaborations (FastiOnline). In all of the above there’s been a focus on engaging people with the past, on opening information to a wider audience, and encouraging new voices in the discussion.
I finish up my 6 years at L – P this month, today in fact although courtesy of some unused annual leave I’ve had my last week off, to begin a programme of (yet further) study at Brown University in the autumn. We’ve recently finished up a new release (v1.0!) of the ARK open source archaeological database system. If you’ve not heard about it already, or if you’re interested in this much-improved latest release, you can check out our website. The team from Villa Magna are working toward a comprehensive digital publication for the site stratigraphic narrative which, paired with ARK, will help future researchers to use the data from our excavations to ask new questions. The Thames Discovery Programme finishes up a stream of Heritage Lottery funding this September, passing the project on to the local volunteers originally trained by the project. Working with the team at Day of Archaeology, contacts and friends from the last six years, to encourage online discussion and narrative about archaeology serves as a pretty apropos bookend to this digital work.
Based solely on impressions external to the discipline (and some particularly old-school archaeologists), ‘archaeologists’ are the people in the trench with mattocks and trowels, the sandal-wearing beardies and the tweed-jacketed academics, occupying a space somewhere between Indiana Jones and Time Team in the imaginations of the public. But the profession covers so much more ground than that, and there are so many other important skills needed to make a successful project or to get the story of archaeology to the public. The characterisations above are no more the only archaeologists than are heart surgeons the only doctors, or robins the only birds. Archaeology as a discipline encorporates aspects of classics and history, anthropology, chemistry, computer science, geography, forensics/medicine… The list is, truly, endless. This variety of interdisciplinary interests results in a variety of interdisciplinary professionals, a variety of interesting jobs and a variety of interesting personalities. It is maintaining and expanding this variety that is most at risk when we talk of the impact of the global recession on the archaeology in education and in practice. Let’s hope the content from today’s posts helps both to reinforce the importance in protecting and enhancing our unique skillsets and to celebrate the diversity of archaeological practice.